The latest episode of The Mandalorian, “Chapter 15: The Believer,” was a fascinating one for multiple reasons. For one thing, it continued to explore life in the Galaxy post-Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, revealing a whole new and far more complicated period of time in the franchise’s history than the happy dancing Ewoks might have suggested.
For another, this was the first episode of the series to not even include a glimpse of our beloved Baby Yoda, giving us insight into what the series might be without that unadulterated nugget of cuteness around– Oh, but really, who am I kidding? “The Believer” was a big deal because for several minutes of screen time, we saw Pedro Pascal’s damn face on screen.
While Pascal has always been the credited star of The Mandalorian, it’s been known since well into Season 1 that his performance was a blend of his voice work alongside stunt actors and stand-ins. In press leading up to Season 2, Pascal said he was on set a lot more this time, but Episode 7 was the first to really prove it. Of course, in order to do so, the character of Din Djarin had to violate one of his most closely held beliefs… though in a way, Season 2 had been setting us up for that reveal the whole time.
Given the title of the show, it’s not surprising to what degree Mandalorian culture has been important to the narrative — from the series premiere, when we saw Din interact with fellow members of his tribe, we have been learning what exactly it means to be a part of The Way. (I’m fully aware that there is a vast amount of Star Wars ancillary material, both officially canon and otherwise, which also explores Mandalorian culture, but for right now we’re focusing largely on what we’ve seen in this particular TV show, pretending just for now that it can stand alone as its own separate story.)
Din’s adherence to the Way in which he was raised is one of his strongest defining character traits. When one considers Din’s backstory — orphaned child who loses his parents in a moment of extreme trauma — it’s easy to see why he would immediately cling to the culture of his rescuer, especially considering that a fundamental part of said culture is based around caring for foundlings like him, and continue religious adherence to it as an adult.
But while Season 1 made it clear why Din is the way he is, what we’ve been learning about Mandalorian culture from Season 2 of the show is that our titular Mando is actually a bit of an aberration within the mainstream. The sect he belongs to, we learned from Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackoff) in “Chapter 11: The Heiress,” is known as the Children of the Watch, considered “a cult of religious zealots that broke away from Mandalorian society; their goal was to re-establish the ancient way.” (The Mandalorian equivalent of the Amish?)
We see Bo-Katan and her fellow Mandalorians operate on a pretty different level from Din, including their most distinctive difference: taking off their helmets casually. For Din, casually removing his helmet is a no-go: In “Chapter 4: Sanctuary,” he explained to Omera (Julia Jones) that if he ever took off the helmet, he could never put it on again. Up until now, the show has lawyered its way around technicalities when it comes to removing said helmet, from IG-11 removing it in the Season 1 finale because as a droid, he didn’t count as a living creature, to us just getting glimpses of Din’s chin as he and Baby Yoda sipped soup together aboard the Razor Crest.
Now, though, the Razor Crest has been destroyed, Baby Yoda is in the clutches of the evil Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), and Mando’s desperate enough for help to sneak Mayfeld (literal Bill Burr) out of prison to track Gideon down. Not only is he desperate enough to be the one asking for favors this time, but his fondness for his young charge pushes him to violate one of his culture’s most important tenets — not just swapping his personal armor for that of an Imperial trooper to infiltrate a refinery, but even taking off that helmet to pass a security checkpoint, and keeping the helmet off while he and Din converse with nosy and odious Valin Hess (Richard Brake).
Sure, now we all have questions about why Din would put the effort into grooming such a nice mustache if he’s wearing a helmet all the time. But more importantly, here are no technicalities here: Din took his helmet off, and Mayfeld (not to mention a whole bunch of Imperial dudes) has seen his face.
Mayfeld brushes it off, telling Din he didn’t see anything, but here’s the big thing — despite what Din told Omera before, after they’ve completed the mission and returned to Slave One he gets back into his beskar armor, helmet included.
It doesn’t feel like a return to the status quo, though. Instead, it feels like an important step for the character, grappling with his identity as a Mandalorian while also facing how his new life as Baby Yoda’s protector has changed him. Din without his helmet is a big deal for the show on a number of levels, but when it comes to the character and his journey it speaks to one of The Mandalorian’s best qualities: its ability to reveal the messiness of real life within the Star Wars universe. Unlike the heroes of the Skywalker Saga, this is a show where characters like Mayfeld feel comfortable saying “as far as I’m concerned, if you can make it through your day and still sleep at night, you’re doin’ better than most.”
Codes and credos are all very well and good, but sometimes the bad guy kidnaps your kid and you gotta get him back, and the only way to do it is to break the rules. And by letting Din break one of his most important rules, we didn’t just get to see his face — we got to understand him better.
The Season 2 finale of The Mandalorian premieres Friday, December 18.